York is an historic city located in North Yorkshire that was founded by the Romans in AD71. Set at the confluence of the River’s Ouse and Foss, the city has a rich and fascinating heritage, vividly illustrated by its majestic Gothic cathedral and ancient rampart walls.
Within these walls, the visitor will find a maze of narrow, cobbled streets some of which are overlooked by old timber-framed houses like those at Little Shambles. Here’s a run-down of some of the most important York visitor attractions and places of interest with links to their official websites.
York Minster Cathedral
Overlooking the winding cobbled streets and crooked Georgian squares is York Minster Cathedral; by far the most popular of all York visitor attractions. It was constructed in the 7th century and is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. The imposing central tower stands at 235 feet and can be climbed via some 275 steps. From here, the views of York are sublime.
York Minster’s magnificent interior is a triumph of craftsmanship and comprises more medieval stained glass than any other holy site in the UK. Its 14th century Pilgrimage Window, set above a beautifully carved dragon’s head, is particularly impressive.
The cathedreal also houses a library as well as a vast array of historical artefacts that are on display at the Undercroft Museum – the only accredited cathedral museum in the country. Guided tours are run every day which reveal the eventful past of this impressive place of worship.
York City Walls
The old rampart walls enclosing the town date back to the Romans. Built to guard against marauders and invaders, they’re still largely intact and stretch for over three miles. The most prominent remains include the Multangular Tower located in the museum’s gardens and four gatehouses: Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bare and Micklegate Bar. Of these, two stand four-stories high (Bootham, Micklegate). The best preserved sections of York’s wall can be found between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar.
Stunning views of York are to be had from Clifford’s Tower – a stone construction built to replace a wooden fortress erected by the Normans in the 11th century. It was named after Roger de Clifford, a Lancastrian military commander who was executed here during the War of the Roses. Today, visitors have access to an open-air wall walk at the top of the tower that affords panoramic vistas of the old city as well as the ‘Eye of York’ – a collection of 18th century buildings including the Assize Courts, the Female Prison and Debtors Prison.
York Castle Museum
The award-winning York Castle Museum is well worth a visit and showcases more than 400 years of the city’s past through a series of interactive displays and galleries. One of the stand-out features has to be its Kirkgate display – a life-size recreation of a Victorian street complete with horse carriages, period shops, inns and a 17th century dining room. Other displays of note include Toy Stories; a history of children’s toys since Victorian times and the Cells, where legendary highwayman Dick Turpin was held captive.
Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
Located in the centre of York, Yorkshire Museum is a major historical visitor attraction, featuring a huge collection of artefacts including fossils, Roman coins, 15th century jewellery and prehistoric implements. Outside is a 10-acre botanic gardens which is home to more than 4000 plant and tree species – entry is free.
Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre is another historical high point and includes an array of life-size mannequins and original artefacts as well as reconstructions of Viking dwellings. Built on the remains of 1000 year-old wooden houses, the museum plays host to a series of re-enactments depicting ancient Nordic life in Britain – children can also dress up in traditional Viking garb and play soldiers for the day.
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum on Leeman Road is also a must-visit and houses an impressive collection of classic locomotives. Celebrating the UK’s storied history of railed travel, you’ll find the iconic Flying Scotsman, George Stephenson’s Rocket and the only Bullet train to be found outside Japan. As well as the wonderful exhibits, there are plenty of activities to enjoy including steam rides and turntable demonstrations.
One of York’s most cherished visitor attractions has to be the Shambles which is a narrow 14th century thoroughfare comprising a marvellous collection of overhanging timber-framed buildings. Originally known as the Great Flesh Shambles because of its butcher stalls and ships, the area now features shops, inns ad cosy little eateries. From the Shambles, a maze of narrow side streets and footpaths known as the Snickelways wind their way through the old city.
York Boat Cruises
Boat cruises are available through a variety of companies that take visitors up and down the River Ouse. It’s a great way to truly appreciate the historical charm and intrigue of this magnificent cathedral city. Lunch and afternoon tea river cruises can be arranged throughout the spring and summer months as well as sightseeing excursions featuring live commentary from knowledgeable guides.
York Art Gallery
Art lovers should enjoy York Art Gallery which exhibits thousands of ceramic works from the likes of Grayson Perry, William Straite and Bernard Leach. Paintings by LS Lowery, William Turner, and David Hockney are also on display in this 19th century Grade II listed building.
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